Wednesday, 7 January 2015

Oh, Dear Me

‘Dear Murderer’ (1947) stars Eric Portman, Greta Gynt and Dennis Price – so I thought that this was recommendation enough to take a look at it. I got the dvd off ebay and it wasn’t very good quality – a bit like the film itself, really.  It was a pleasant enough way to pass 90 minutes; but it is the film equivalent of one of those tacky magazines that they give you in the hairdressers to pass the time on while your colour takes.

The plot centres on married couple Lee and Vivien Warren (Portman and Gynt).  Basically, she’s an incorrigible tart and he is insanely jealous. While Lee’s been working away in the US, Vivien’s been out playing with Dennis Price’s character, Richard Fenton.  Lee gets suspicious when Vivien’s letters to him peter out – and then gets his proof of her infidelity when he sees the pair’s photograph in an old copy of Tatler magazine. When Lee returns to London, he murders Fenton, only to find that Vivian had gone off him anyway and had since taken up with Fenton’s future brother-in-law Jimmy Martin (Maxwell Reed). Lee Warren then frames Martin for Fenton’s murder in order to get rid of him too. (Keep up, please!) Finally, sick of all the shenanigans and of the visits from Jack Warner’s policeman, Vivien ends it all by giving Lee an overdose of sleeping pills.

The delightful Mr Portman, by @aitchteee

The title of the film (Dear Murderer) is taken from a letter that Vivian writes to Lee. Hand written notes are a vital part of the plot; from their absence alerting Lee to his wife’s infidelity to those that he makes Fenton write to make his murder look like suicide.  It made me think that it isn’t so long ago that the letter was the only form of a long distance communication – and also how much I miss it. I was once a great letter writer. Despite being relatively young and having now fully embraced modern communications I can remember regularly sitting down and putting pen to paper.  When I first moved away I sat and wrote letters home because making calls by payphone was a bit of a drain on the student grant. I had several penfriends, from the one in Humberside organised by my Junior school to ones in Australia and the US that I got through joining a scheme when I was at a loose end in the mid ‘90s.  I wrote notes to friends when our lives took us in different directions. I even wrote letters of complaint to companies that annoyed me in the hope of earning myself a few vouchers. But now, Facebook messaging and email has killed this art form – and I do see it as an art.  People enjoy reading a good letter – and the published volumes of them sat on my bookshelves is testament to this.  I have the collected letters of several fascinating people and love to just dip into them from time to time. In the right hands, a good letter delivers a range of feel-good benefits.  There is the excitement of finding a hand written envelope on your doormat; then the flattery that someone made the effort to put pen to paper especially for you.

I mourn the loss of the chatty, gossipy letter.  I only have one person that I write to by hand left in my life. She is an old work colleague who has admirably refused to succumb to the world of technology.  We perhaps exchange two or three letters per year.  I love deciphering her handwriting and finding out the next instalment of her on/off romance with a non-committal bus driver. Now I’m thinking about it, I’d really like a penfriend again.  There is perhaps a small band of us keeping the art form alive.  I’ll fetch the Basildon Bond.

My favourite little volume of letters is ‘John Betjeman on Trains’, edited by Jonathan Glancey. I think that it is possibly this which inspired my novella, ‘Dear Mr Betjeman’.  This is available to purchase from Amazon here.  Here’s the opening:

Dear Mr Betjeman
Yesterday afternoon while my husband was at work I saw one of your television programmes.  I’m sorry that I have not seen it before – perhaps it has only been shown in the evenings previously and my husband prefers the radio when he returns from work or indeed no noise at all.  I must say I thoroughly enjoyed your journey through Norfolk by train.  This is an area that I know well as it is not too far away from us here in the Lincolnshire Wolds.  At any time soon though it may be more difficult for us to reach the Norfolk coast (or our own coastline), as they want to take away our railway.  We thought all those cuts had finished but not here it seems. Half of Lincolnshire is to be closed to rail traffic.  It really is a terrible shame, my husband is going to have to drive to work.  At least we can afford a car – what about all those who work on the farms?
But it was so nice to see someone who’s got something good to say about the railway.  Please do continue on and tell them all how wrong they are to stop the trains.  I think I may purchase a volume of your poetry next time I visit Lincoln (by train, perhaps for the last time).
Yours sincerely
Mavis Enderby (Mrs)

Fans of the letter should also read ‘Can Any Mother Help Me’ by Jenna Bailey.

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